Three Key Factors That Make HRCI's PHR So Hard to Pass Blog Feature

Three Key Factors That Make HRCI's PHR So Hard to Pass

The PHR is notoriously hard. In 2019, the pass rate was just 69%. Because the exam certifies the competency of a modern practitioner of human resources, which is a complex profession, it’s safe to say that the rigor is a feature, not a flaw.

In the modern economy, demonstrating professional competency is imperative. In human resources, earning a credential (like the PHR) is one of the most effective ways to stay competitive.
Certifying your HR team has at least two significant benefits to your organization. First, it shows you have high standards for the quality of work you expect from your HR staff. Second, it shows your HR staff you value their professional development, in turn boosting loyalty and retention.

Because the test is difficult, you want to make sure your staff is prepared to put their best foot forward.
In this post, we’ll walk through three different factors that contribute to the PHR’s famous rigor and, in the end, help you consider the learning platform features that can provide your employees with a leg-up.

Factor #1: There are Variable Rates of Question Difficulty

Every PHR exam comprises 175 questions pulled at random from a pool of thousands of possible options covering the entirety of the Human Resource Body of Knowledge (HRBoK). Because of how the exam is compiled, a candidate can get a question set that's much harder than their neighbor's.

The system stays fair in the end because of the effect of scaled scoring, but it can be very disorienting for an unprepared candidate. Encountering more than the expected number of very difficult questions, or, for that matter, more than the expected number of very easy questions, can create the kind of anxiety and self-doubt that can adversely affect performance.

To help employees meet the challenges of variable difficulty rates, provide them with technology that enables them to focus on mastery, not memorization. The PHR is all about certifying a candidate's knowledge of the principles of human resources. Candidates should approach the certification exam as an occasion to verify a deep-set body of knowledge rather than a shallow measure of what has been memorized for a test.

Factor #2: It Tests Concepts Candidates Might Not Be Required to Know for Their Jobs

The PHR certification exam comprises five different functional areas of human resources:

  • Business Management (20%)
  • Talent Planning and Acquisition (16%)
  • Learning and Development (10%)
  • Total Rewards (15%)
  • Employee and Labor Relations (39%)

Because candidates may not work within all five functional areas every day, there are bound to be gaps in even the most motivated and well-accomplished learner's HR knowledge.

For most adult learners, acquiring new knowledge or backfilling knowledge around gaps in general areas of expertise is challenging because of the demands of being an adult. Adults have first-order responsibilities that must be met before the study is even possible. To give adult learners a leg up, it's helpful to have an online learning platform that caters to their specific needs: an adaptive study plan that focuses on the areas where they need the most support, the ability to set their own deadlines and study at their own pace, and more.

Factor #3: Questions Utilize One of Three Different Cognitive Levels

PHR preparation requires so much more than rote memorization. According to the HRCI, all of the possible questions on the PHR exam are based on one of three cognitive levels:

  • Knowledge & Comprehension: Recalling factual material, such as definitions.
  • Application & Problem-Solving: Applying familiar principles or generalizations to solve real-life problems.
  • Synthesis & Evaluation: Combining different elements and using critical thinking skills to solve a complex problem.

While the simple act of memorizing definitions might help a candidate with questions in the “Knowledge & Comprehension” cognition level, the “Application & Problem-Solving” and “Synthesis & Evaluation” cognition levels require a much higher order of thinking and preparation.

To help learners reach this higher-order faster, you might consider the advantages of adaptive learning technology. Advanced learning platforms like BenchPrepHR build personalized learning pathways (also known as adaptive learning) that amplify a learner's knowledge and feed their successes into a positive feedback loop that accelerates the learning process.

How to Help Your HR Team Pass the PHR Exam

Yes, the PHR is difficult, but it's not unbeatable. You can help your learners overcome the PHR’s famous rigor with personalized learning pathways that emphasize strengths and eliminate weaknesses. Provide your employees with a path to success, and they’ll be able to show you—and the HRCI—what they can do. If you’d like more information about what you can do to help prepare learners for their PHR certification, please check out the content below.

To see how BenchPrepHR’s brand of credential preparation can help professionals get in the right state of mind, you’ll want to see Course Spotlight: 3 Reasons to Rethink Credentialing Prep for Time-Strapped Professionals.

To get a better idea of how the BenchPrepHR online learning platform is uniquely well suited to helping full-time professionals prepare for the PHR, you’ll want to read 4 Ways Digital Learning Improves the Professional Learner Journey on the BenchPrep blog.

Finally, to learn more about the adaptive learning concept (along with a breakdown of how the technology works on the BenchPrepHR platform), you should check out BenchPrep co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Ujjwal Gupta's articles, Adaptive eLearning: Sorting Content for Personalized Learning Pathways and Adaptive eLearning: How to Leverage Content For a Personalized Study Plan.